Life Happens But College Takes Planning

3 Strategies to Make it Work

In Indiana, approximately 737,000 Hoosiers have some college credit but no degree. Many students have every intention of finishing college when they start, but life is complicated, and unexpected obstacles—including money, family and even small details like transportation—can throw the best-laid plans off course.

But college is an investment of both time and money, and the best way to make it pay off is by finishing your degree or credential. Simplify college and life by thinking strategically about how you’ll make it work.

Plan for the worst (but expect the best). Karen Reinoehl, director of transfer admission at Trine University in Angola, Indiana, was a returning adult student at one time and can relate well to the challenges.

“Adult students have job responsibilities, demanding schedules and limited time frames for classes,” she says. “How do you find the time to fit in school with everything else?”

Mapping your degree by requirements to create a plan for graduation is key, Reinoehl says. “Every situation is unique, and you really have to be aware of all your options, and the implications each choice has on your future.”

Make a list of all the possible challenges to your education plan, and then think of ways to overcome the issues raised. How will being a student fit into your current life? Are you prepared to make sacrifices for the long-term benefits and rewards? Do you have a supportive spouse, friends and family? What’s the biggest obstacle? 

Don’t be afraid to reach out to college admissions and financial aid advisors, counselors and professors who can help you figure out how to make it work when the going gets tough.

Full-time or part-time? At most colleges and universities, a full-time schedule means 15 credit hours per semester to graduate on time. That means four to six classes and up to 40 hours a week for in-class and out-of-class coursework.

Full-time students are six times more likely to finish their four-year degrees and twice as likely to finish a two-year degree, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The quicker you obtain a degree, the sooner you can earn a better salary and advance your career. More grants and scholarships may be available, and you may be able to claim tax breaks for tuition and child-care costs.

On the other hand, you’ll also probably have to give up a full-time income and benefits. If you choose to attend part time, you might be able to successfully squeeze in work and classes. You’ll have to be a master of multi-tasking, however, and there is a higher risk of failure. But many students do make it work, especially with online and evening class options.

Jillian Scholten, transfer coordinator in the Office of Admissions at Ball State University, is also currently working on her master’s degree while working fulltime.

“Sometimes after a long day at work, it’s hard for me to want to sit down and do homework, but you have to do it,” Scholten says.

While everyone is short on sleep once in awhile, it’s not okay to go long periods without sleep, regular meals or some balance between work, school, family and social life.

With the help of your admissions or academic advisor, choose a realistic timeline to help ensure your success. At Ball State, for example, prospective students can create a timeline for their degrees that might include a combination of part-time and full-time schedules starting at Ivy Tech Community College and finishing a four-year Ball State degree. You might be able to complete a degree in a blended schedule of part-time and full-time semesters.

Banish fear. Taking the first step is always difficult and scary, especially if it’s been a long time since you’ve set foot in a classroom. But once they start, many adults find they enjoy learning and the intellectual stimulation that college and learning brings, Reinoehl says. At Trine, for example, non-traditional students and their younger, more traditional-aged counterparts enjoy a rich dialogue, she says.

Indiana colleges and universities are working harder than ever to make earning a two-year degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s degree possible for adult students, Scholten says. “It’s a great time to come back to school,” she says.

Parental Control

“We know that high-quality educational opportunities can transform lives, and that’s just as true for children as it is for adults. As a parent returns to school or to work, a good early learning program provides stable care and sets the stage for a child’s success in life. And it helps those parents balance their schoolbooks with family obligations. In Indiana, families can use the state’s quality rating system, Paths to QUALITY at, to find programs that both keep children safe and help them prepare for their own academic adventures.”

    —Ted Maple, president and CEO, Early Learning Indiana

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